I absolutely love Magic: the Gathering (MTG). Granted, the card game has been out for nearly 20 years and I just started playing a few months ago, but few things in my life have captivated my attention like the game of Magic has since I learned to play. I tried to learn the game on numerous occasions through out the years but it just never “clicked” for me, that is until recently. Thanks to a combination of watching a cousin play while I was on vacation and the release of the original Duels of the Planeswalkers (DotP)on PlayStation + for free, I decided to give the world of Magic one more “go” and this time, it took and it doesn’t seem to be letting go.
The world of Magic can be a complicated one. Translating a complicated card game into an electronic interface can make things even more confusing. Wizards of the Coast, the creators of Magic, and a variety of developers have made numerous attempt over the past 2 decades to craft the right mix of the two and the results have been less than stellar. Aside from MicroProse’s 1997 PC release Magic: The Gathering, nothing has really pleased the loyal fans of the actual card game. Then we saw the release of 2009‘s Magic the Gathering: DotP for the Xbox Live Arcade, which made its way to both the PC and PSN in 2010. The game, developed by Stainless Games, was a huge step forward for the Magic IP and video game representations of CCG’s (Wizard’s own Magic Online aside).
As good as the original Duels was, there was definitely plenty of room for improvement. The game did a wonderful job at presenting players with a accurate representation of the experience of actually “playing” the game, it seriously lacked some of the traits and experiences that make the card game so addicting and fun such as customizing your own deck(s) and trading cards with your friends. While not all of those have been addressed, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 does make huge leaps forward in creating the perfect emulation of MTG on your PC or console(s). DotP 2012 improves on the great foundation that was laid by the original game. At its core, it is the same game, it just includes a couple of aspects that were sorely missing from the original and uses an excellent presentation style that brings everything together in one, seamless package.
For those players who may not be familiar with the MTG world, DotP 2012 offers a variety of ways for you to become familiar with the game. In addition to step by step tutorials on how to play the game, players are provided a variety of challenges which introduce and teach you more advanced techniques using the various mechanics of the game. You are also provided an extensive rulebook and glossary to lookup terms and concepts that require more in-depth explanations.
Once you learn “how” to play the game, you will be given a variety of both single- and multiplayer game modes to enjoy. When playing by yourself, there are three different campaigns offered, with 11 stages offered in each. The initial campaign and the “revenge” campaign (increased difficulty) are accompanied by the new Archenemy campaign which promotes cooperative play. Even if you don’t have the friends beside you to play through it the game will provide you with 2 AI companions as the three of you face off against a super-up, single enemy who used a very strong deck. Each campaign also includes a variety of challenge mission which are unlocked as you defeat opponents. The first game simply offered these as a separate mode but 2012 incorporates them into the campaign experience, which is much appreciated.
Magic is about playing with friends above all else, and the game brings you multiplayer options in spades. Multiple multiplayer variations are offered and include online play with variations such as up to 4-player free for all matches, Two Headed Giant (2-on-2), and Archenemy. Being a turn based gameplay experience, lag is rarely an issue and when it exists, hardly noticeable aside from a slight delay in your selections. Rarely will it hinder your ability to complete a game or cause you to lose.
That is great that the game offers you all of the ways to play, but how “good” is the experience? In a word: awesome. DotP does an excellent job of streamlining the MTG experience into a digital form. The interface and gameplay options are spelled out clearly for you in all modes and navigation of the playing field is a breeze. Players will have absolutely no difficulty browsing their hands, graveyards, and the battlefield and read any and all cards in play. While the game does put players on a “timer” of sorts to enforce the progression of the game, you do have the option of turning it off for some phases in the option. I found this very helpful to ensure that I accomplished everything that I planned to do during each of the phases of my turn(s).
The game starts players off with 2 different Magic decks to play with; as you defeat opponents in the campaign mode, you will unlock an additional 8 decks and additional cards for each of those decks. Winning with a given deck will unlock more cards for you to insert into your decks using the game’s deck customization options. This is perhaps the biggest improvement that the new game has made over its predecessor. The original DotP really lacked in this area; players were given a variety of cards to unlock, but all that you could do is add them to the 60 card deck that you were already provided with. This meant that in order to put the unlocked cards to use you had to inflate your deck(s) beyond the ideal 60 card set.
Any seasoned Magic player will tell you that the closer you are to 60 cards, the better, therefore it became counterproductive to add in your newly acquired cards regardless of how powerful they may have been. They only served to dilute your card assortment during gameplay. DotP 2012 has taken some steps to improve this feature and now allows you to add and remove any and all non-land cards in your deck(s), as long as you maintain the 60-card minimum. Another thing that this feature brings to the game is an increase in the variations of decks that you will experience during your gameplay. Sure, you may run into numerous other players using Chandra’s Unquenchable Fire deck online, but each one may vary slightly and end up playing different due to the variations in the equipped cards. This really creates a diverse gameplay experience and is easily the strongest aspect of the game.
As great as I find the game to be, I do have a couple of complaints with the new game. First off, the gameplay landscape gets old really fast as every match “looks” the same. The first game allowed you to choose from a variety of backgrounds which altered the visual aspect of a match. Sadly, those options are no longer available in the game. Instead, players are given a large selection of avatars to choose from to represent their character, all based on some of the more memorable artwork from the real life card images. Another glaring ommission in the game is the lack of ability to trade cards with friends. I can understand that a trading aspect isn’t exactly feasible given Wizard’s business model for the franchise as it would impede on their business of the core game, but it would be a nice addition and something that I think all fans would appreciate. The release could include, or actually already does, a limited assortment of cards when compared to what is actually available in the MTG universe, why not more? Why can’t they include the various sets that are no longer available for purchase in the real world and allow players to trade and share them online? That experience could really set the foundation for a huge community behind the game and draw in more players form the actual CCG universe.
Truth be told, despite a few mild complaints, I just cannot get enough of DotP 2012. Most downloadable titles run their course within 10-15 hours, but I have already sank nearly 3 times that into this game and there is no sign of that slowing down any time soon. The stellar campaign modes lend their selves to multiple playthroughs and the challenges posed in between their matches run the gauntlet from simple teaching experiences to fist-slamming, frustrating puzzles that still stump me this far in. This game is easily the most played game in my house right now and will likely be the most played for quite some time. Fans of the original game and the CCG will find a lot to like in this release.